A Smoother Pebble

Castro Death Watch

For years Augusto Pinochet and Fidel Castro have been waiting to see the other’s coffin lowered into the ground. It now looks as though Pinochet will win the contest. Castro's impending death should be a cause of celebration: the fewer bloodstained dictators there are in the world, the better.

Castro is a tyrant who has murdered thousands. In Cuba there are no elections, no independent political parties, no independent media and no economic freedom. Cubans in Miami are already on the streets celebrating, but they could be in for a disappointment.

Even if Castro dies tomorrow, a free Cuba could still be distant. For instance when Kim Il Sung died in 1994, almost all outsiders thought that the regime would implode, but Kim Jong Il swiftly and seamlessly took power and is still going strong after a decade. Clever and ruthless, Kim had prepared for his father's death and spent years wiping out out all opposition to himself in the party hierarchy. We now have an analogous situation with Castro and his brother Raul. Castro doesn’t want his revolution to die with him and he and Raul have had decades to meticulously plan the succession.

The only scenario I can foresee for a quick transition to democracy is if some other apparatchik makes a try for the top job and launches a coup d’etat which leads to civil war and a U.S. invasion. But if Raul can establish himself, then nothing will have changed. The nightmare in North Korea over the past decade suggests that a doomed regime can hang on for a long time, there is a great deal of ruin in a nation. North Korea and Cuba must collapse eventually, but that might not be until half the population starves to death.

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